The case for staying engaged in Libya

The House of Commons is presently debating an extension to the mission in Libya. The following is Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s opening speech to the House.

Mr. Speaker, let me begin by saying how proud I am to rise in support of this comprehensive motion laid out the House. I am especially proud of the tremendous role that our men and women in uniform have played over the past six months in protecting the Libyan people from the brutal dictatorship of Gadhafi and his henchmen.

I am truly pleased and honoured to speak to the proud contribution that Canada has made, writ large in creating a new Libya, one free of tyranny and dictatorship, one that finally, after four decades, will reflect the needs and aspirations of the Libyan people.

In March when the House first debated Canada’s military mission, members would know that I was very clear in arguing that we needed to act. At that time Libyans were under attack from their own government. They had joined a popular wave of uprisings across the Arab world to demand an end to dictatorship.

Moammar Gadhafi’s regime met these peaceful protests with violent brutality. The situation was dire. It was urgent. When Gaza was under threat of attack, Misrata was besieged, and Libyan civilians everywhere were being touched by the violence, being bombed, shelled indiscriminately by Gadhafi forces.

Through the bloodshed and violence, it was clear that Gadhafi had lost all legitimacy. We worked, as Canadians, with our allies in the international community to bring forward a peaceful solution.

However, after all exhaustive efforts have been made, diplomatic efforts, it was evident that action had to be taken to stop these massacres. The United Nations Security Council understood this reality and passed Resolution No. 1973 on March 17. This resolution authorized all necessary action to protect civilians and civilian populated areas in Libya.

I am proud that Canada took a leading role in enforcing the UN mandate. I wish to commend all hon. members for their role in supporting the Libyan people. In supporting Canada’s participation in the NATO Operation Unified Protector, we sent a clear sign of Canada’s determination to support the Libyan people.

Our international partners understood that Canada was a country that not only carries its weight but punches above it. Today is a new round.

Le soutien de la motion dont nous sommes saisis aujourd’hui permettra de prolonger le leadership que le Canada a démontré depuis le début du conflit en Libye plus tôt cette année.

Le Canada a fortement contribué aux changements importants en Libye. Nous avons montré à nos alliés que nous sommes un partenaire fiable. Nous avons montré au peuple libyen qu’il peut toujours compter sur le Canada pour faire les bonnes choses.

Notre travail en Libye n’est pas terminé. L’OTAN a établi trois conditions pour mettre fin à ses opérations militaires en Libye: l’arrêt de toutes les attaques contre les civils, le retrait vérifiable des forces militaires et paramilitaires et l’accès entier et sûr à l’aide humanitaire pour tous ceux qui en ont besoin partout en Libye.

Bien que la plupart des Libyens jouissent désormais d’une liberté qu’ils n’ont pas eue depuis quatre décennies, des parties de la Libye demeurent toujours sous la poigne de fer de Khadafi. La capacité de Khadafi d’attaquer des civils a été réduite mais elle n’a pas été éliminée. Les forces restantes du régime se battent sans trop se soucier du bien-être du peuple libyen. Il y a un meilleur accès aux services de base, mais quelques zones ont toujours des besoins très aigus.

Last week, in support of the UN security council resolution 2009, taken September 16, NATO, on September 21, acknowledged that its mandate to protect civilians remains in force and extended its mission by up to three months.

Canada was in at the very beginning, as we know, and we should be there until the job is done. Canada has never shirked a responsibility and certainly we cannot do so now. With Canadian leadership and the military mission of the Canadian Forces, we have been at the leading edge of the Canadian effort in Libya. Canada was instrumental in preventing attacks against civilians, with our allies. We have persevered. We have helped save lives that were at imminent risk while Gadhafi was at the helm and I am proud to say that the men and women of the Canadian Forces have been instrumental in the mission’s success thus far.

Our air force has conducted approximately 9% of all NATO strike missions, provided vital aerial surveillance, and carried out crucial refueling missions. At sea, HMCS Charlottetown, and now HMCS Victoria, carried out important maritime patrols enforcing the UN mandate and enabling the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

I would also like to salute the leadership of Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, as commander of NATO operation unified protector. I call on all hon. members to join me in applauding his efforts for the achievements that he has overseen not only on behalf of our country but on behalf of all NATO participants in this mission.

Le 14 juin, le ministre des Affaires étrangères a pris la parole ici et a promis que le Canada allait mettre sur pied une stratégie d’engagement diplomatique améliorée pour apporter le succès en Libye.

Je suis heureux d’annoncer que notre gouvernement a tenu sa promesse. Le Canada a reconnu le Conseil national de transition comme le représentant légitime du peuple libyen ce jour-là. Moins de deux semaines plus tard, le ministre des Affaires étrangères s’est rendu à Benghazi où il a rencontré les dirigeants de la rébellions. Il a également remis 355 trousses de traumatologie pour répondre aux besoins médicaux pressants. Il a soulevé, avec le Conseil national de transition et avec les représentants de la société civile la profonde préoccupation du Canada concernant l’utilisation du viol comme arme de guerre.

Les Libyens qu’il a rencontré à Benghazi ont partagé leur horreur par rapport à ces crimes odieux et ont souligné qu’en raison des sensibilités culturelles l’ampleur réelle du crime n’est pas connue.

Les victimes hésitent à accepter un traitement ou un soutien. La détermination du Canada pour les aider s’est concrétisée.

It has become very clear as well that the council is legitimate. The council represents the people until we can have a full democratic process in place. Its commitment to rebuild Libya is to establish for its people a government based on the rule of law, and this is genuine. It is expressed in its vision of a democratic Libya, its road map and the more recent declaration of a constitutional declaration.

These principles must now be put into action. The international community has the mandate to protect civilians in Libya and support reforms, but it the responsibility of the Libyan people to take the reins and guide their country into the future.

That means rebuilding. It means, of course, leveraging Libya’s immense natural wealth. It means establishing civil society and democratic institutions, and the road ahead will not be easy. However, Canada, as in previous conflicts, as previous efforts and missions around the world, will be there to assist.

During our debate here in June, members will recall it was unclear how events would unfold in Libya. One-man rule had been the reality in that country for four decades, and that was in fact all that two generations of Libyans had ever known. How quickly that would change.

On August 21, just as some members of the opposition were referring to stalemates and musing about Canada pulling out, Tripoli fell. Gadhafi and those closest to him fled, and the remaining are still on the run.

Four days later, on August 25, Canada accredited the new Libyan chargé d’affaires appointed by the NTC and committed to address the NTC as Libya’s legitimate government until elected representatives were in place.

On September 1, the Prime Minister and the foreign minister attended the Paris on Libya. They announced the lifting of sanctions imposed by Canada since the UN Security Council has unfrozen more Canadian-held funds.

Conditions in Tripoli are improving. Traffic jams are back, a sign that both basic commodities like fuel are now available, and the people have the confidence to leave their homes. The flags of the new Libyan country are prominently displayed throughout the city. Children and adults alike are dressed in T-shirts and ball caps of red, black and green stripes. We now see a degree of civility returning: street cleaning, neighbourhood distribution of water and food when both were scarce, and this obviously did not exist in the days running up to the fall of Gadhafi.

Outside of specific areas of fierce fighting, such as Misrata, the infrastructure is still largely intact. In Tripoli, the precision of NATO’s strikes over the past month is evident. Some government buildings are damaged, but little else.

As well, Libya enjoys oil wealth, which will give of great assistance in their rebuilding. While there has been some damage to oil facilities, repairs are already under way.

Despite these positive signs, there are still very real challenges, as I mentioned, on the horizon for Libya. Many of the demands for a better quality of life which preceded the conflict, still remain. People want better schools, hospitals, job opportunities.

After four decades of stagnation, the Libyan people are hungry for change, and the challenge for Libya’s new rulers will be to deliver, while also maintaining cohesion among its desperate elements that shared in ridding the country of the Gadhafi regime.

Security and stability require control of many thousands of weapons now circulating in that country, and the young men who carry them. It was Gadhafi’s son Seif who promised, “We will fight to the last man and woman and bullet”.

Today, we can see that is indeed what the Gadhafi loyalists intend to do. Together we have watched the brutal tenacity of Gadhafi and his followers as they clung to power, first in Tripoli, and now from strongholds in Bani Walid and Sirte, leading to further senseless loss of life.

Yes, there are significant hurdles to overcome. Success is not an option; it is an imperative. That is, again, why Canada will be there.

Libyans are asking for our support, both to continue to protect civilians and also to provide technical assistance to build, for the first time, a country that represents freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Our role is no less important now than it was in March, two months ago, or two weeks ago. To end our multi-pronged mission now would be to jeopardize everything we have accomplished in Libya this year, as well as abandon those continuing efforts of our allies.

The Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs are at the United Nations together this week. They and other leaders from more than 80 countries met to address how to best assist Libya in implementing its plans for stabilizing and rebuilding the country. These include: the work of a special support mission that will coordinate support among donors; restore public security and promote rule of law; undertake political dialogue leading to national reconciliation; extending the authority of state institutions; protecting human rights and support for transitional justice; and, of course, aid in the economic recovery, among other efforts.

I am pleased to report that our government is leading a whole-of-government effort that will respond to a post-Gadhafi era with targeted assistance where Canada will add value. This will come in conjunction with other support, both domestic and international, and that is what is at stake here today. Canada stands ready to promote effective governance in institutions and expertise, a secure environment founded on the rule of law, economic development, prosperity and respect for human rights including women’s rights and religious freedoms. In addition to support for Libya, Canada is also focusing on returning full services to Canadians in Libya, including support for Canadian companies.

Following an assessment mission done by the Departments of National Defence and Foreign Affairs, Canada has re-established its diplomatic presence in Libya. The embassy is currently operating out of a temporary location while repairs at the chancery are being completed. It will re-open at full operations as soon as the appropriate level of security is deemed to be in place.

It is important in our discussion today to remember that Libya is not a poor country, it has immense petroleum wealth, but it has simply been squandered or seconded by a dictator for several generations. The scourge of war has, of course, taken its toll on the country as well. Libya will need to refurbish oil infrastructure, export capacity and make basic repairs to roads, dams, water wells, electrical and power generation as well as a host of other areas of critical infrastructure. These things will happen with international support, but they will happen at the initiative of the Libyan people.

Quand le ministre des Affaires étrangères a pris la parole ici, en juin, au sujet de notre mission en Libye, il a indiqué que notre stratégie était claire, elle n’a jamais été plus claire. En exerçant sans relâche une pression militaire et diplomatique sur le régime de Kadhafi, tout en fournissant une aide humanitaire, le Canada, ses alliés de l’OTAN et d’autres partenaires internationaux ont pu protéger la population civile de la Libye et créer des conditions d’une véritable ouverture politique. Les Canadiens comprennent ce que nous devons faire. Les Canadiens savent que le travail n’est pas encore terminé.

As Minister of National Defence, I again reiterate how proud I am, how proud I believe Canadians are for our country’s military contribution to this mission in Libya. We are fortunate to have such committed soldiers, sailors and air personnel who three weeks ago I had the privilege to meet with some of them when they returned to Halifax. I would describe this quite simply as a heroes’ welcome on the wharf in Halifax.

It was a moment that could be described as timeless as the men and women aboard the HMCS Charlottetown returned to the Port of Halifax and they were met by their families. They were met by other personnel, their colleagues. But they were met, interestingly, by a number of Libyan Canadians who were there to show their affection, support and appreciation for what those men and women aboard the Charlottetown had done for them. They were unreserved in their thanks to those men and women as they debarked from the ship and told them how proud they were as Canadians, but as Canadians of Libyan descent. They had been talking to their families who were able to assure them that Canada was behind the people of Libya in this mission.

I would share very briefly something else that happened which is quite common when ships return to port. A young mother was there with her child who was born while the father was at sea. This has been a timeless scene when ships return to port and a sign of what sacrifice men and women in uniform make when they are away on deployed operations, not only the risk that they undertake, but the personal sacrifice of time away from home and those important moments that they give up in order to protect our country.

The sense of duty not only to Canada, but to the Libyan people is evident throughout the rank and file of the Canadian Forces. We should be immensely proud of them and immensely proud of the contributions that they make on our behalf. Our men and women in uniform are playing a key leadership role in the enforcement of the international community’s will through their significant contribution to the NATO position. They are positioning Canada as an effective, dependable ally and partner, a reputation that we have enjoyed since our inception. But most importantly, they are standing up for the people of Libya who are demanding change and getting support in that change. In so doing, they are setting the stage for a peaceful future for Libyans and a transition that will occur under their watch.

Just as it was right to do so in June, I believe that it is right now that we extend the Canadian Forces’ mission for up to three months. It is the right thing to do now as well. I urge all hon. members to support this mission before the House. I look forward to the debate that will take place here today. I look forward to the information, the questions and the facts that we will put before the House and the country by virtue of this debate. Again, I thank all members present for participating in this important discussion.

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